6 Questions to Ask When Planning a Disney Budget: Part 2

Hello again. We’re back to discuss the second question we think is crucial to planning your Disney budget. The focus of this post is “Where to Stay?” Lodging will be one of your biggest expenses, along with food and park tickets. This post aims to help you look at your choices and decide what the best fit might be for your situation.

Orlando Florida is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. In 2015 alone, 66 million people visited this mouse mecca! There are over 150,000 hotel rooms to choose from. That means lots of options, but it can get overwhelming to try to find the perfect room that fits your budget and your travel plans. Some things to consider are: will this be a Disney only trip or will you be visiting Universal Studios, Seaworld, and the other myriad attractions in central Florida? Are you okay with eating out for most of your meals or would you like to make your meals in your room? Do you have a car or will you be depending on public transportation to get you to the parks? These are all important questions to ask while searching for that perfect room.

There are several reasons we like to stay on property at Disney. We are a small family, so we can make a modest room in a value resort work pretty well. We spend most of our vacation time at the Disney parks, so we don’t need a lot of amenities or a kitchen in our room to cook food. Disney provides excellent free transportation, and when we feel like driving to the parks, staying on property means parking is free (staying off-property means adding $20 a day to your budget if you will be driving to the parks.) We like the perk of having access to Extra Magic Hours (a time period before the parks open or after they close, that is only open to resort guests.) We also love being in the “Disney bubble.” This is the feeling that you have left the real world behind and all your worries drift away. The omnipresent theming envelops you in a world of magic from the moment you pass under the arch that proclaims you are entering a land “where dreams come true.”

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That being said, there are situations where it would make more sense to stay off-property. If that’s the case for you, here are a few choices to consider.

  • Airbnb: Choose your size and style of housing. We found a room to rent, a stone’s throw from the Magic Kingdom for $60 per night. The total for a Sunday to Friday stay was only $373 with cleaning fee and taxes! Or you could rent a whole condo for $192 a night. The great thing about Airbnb is that it is a trusted source of vacation rentals, and you can find something to match your budget and needs in almost every neighborhood of Orlando and the Disney-area. Airbnb is ideal if you are willing to take an Uber to the parks, want to be able to cook your own food, and are on a super-tight budget.
  • Resorts: There are tons of non-Disney owned resorts to choose from in the Orlando area to fit all budgets. If you are not planning to go to the parks every day and want a more relaxing trip, with some outlet shopping thrown in, you may want consider an off-property resort. Just be sure to look at the extra charges that most resorts tack on. Many hotels I’ve looked at sound great, until you find that they charge a daily resort fee of $12 to $30! And as stated above, you will have to pay for parking at the parks unless you Uber, or the resort offers a shuttle. Our favorite website to search for hotels is tripadvisor.com and you can always check out the Priceline  site, which guarantees that their rates are the lowest prices you can book.
  • Vacation Home Rentals: If you have a large family, or are doing a trip with a few families, it probably makes more sense to go in on a house. Having a kitchen will save you a lot of money and you can have food delivered through Amazon prime pantry. We searched online and found houses that sleep up to 8 people for a weekly rental of $850. Check out vacation home rentals by tripadvisor or VRBO.

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  • Camping: For the more adventurous among you, Orlando also offers some large campgrounds in the area. You can still experience the Disney bubble while you camp, by reserving a site at Disney’s Fort Wilderness campsites. Rates vary throughout the year from about $53 in January and the summer months, to over $100 during the spring and holiday season. If you’d like to explore the wild part of Florida on your trip, floridarambler.com has a list of campsites within a hour of the parks.
  • DVC rental: There are a few reputable sites that allow Disney Vacation Club members to sell their points to you. What does this mean exactly? DVC members who can’t or don’t want to use their points on a Disney vacation every year, use the web to rent them out. If you thought staying at Animal Kingdom lodge was outside your budget, think again! Depending on the time of year you’re planning to go, staying at one of the studios (or villas if you need more space) at Disney’s deluxe resorts may be within reach. For example, staying at a standard studio at Bay Lake Tower in value season would run you $840 for 5 nights through David’s Vacation Club Rentals (a reliable site for renting points.) Compare that to Disney’s official price for that same room of $458 a night! You can still use the Disney website to check in online just as if you booked through Disney, and use magic bands for Fastpasses, etc. You can’t however, take advantage of special offers like free dining or any other discount where it is necessary to book a package through Disney. And maid service is not provided daily, but will happen once or twice throughout your stay.

Hopefully this post has helped guide you in deciding on the best accommodations for your family’s vacation. Although there are many things to consider such as size, amenities, price, and proximity to the parks, Orlando has, quite literally, something for everyone! So have fun researching and dreaming of your sunny vacation!

Photo credit title photo: Joe Penniston via flickr

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6 Questions to Ask When Making A Budget for Your Disney Trip: Part 1

When planning a Disney vacation there are so many questions that need to be answered when deciding on your budget. We feel that these questions are some of the most important factors in planning your vacation. We often talk about how nice it would be to be able to go at the drop of a hat, and stay at the Contemporary or Polynesian Resort. Unfortunately that is not in our budget! So how do you decide on what you can afford?

These questions will help you figure out what the majority of your budget will be spent on. By spending a little time planning at the beginning you will be able to figure out what works best for your party. You may save a substantial amount of money by looking at the trip this way. Over the next couple of posts we will go into detail about each of these questions.

The first one is “How will we get to Disney?” Your two choices, obviously, are flying or driving. If you don’t live within a day’s drive of Orlando, you will probably be flying. We don’t have much experience first-hand with air travel to Disney, but MouseSavers.com has an entire post dedicated to helping you find a cheap flight. So start looking at your options even before you book your exact travel dates. Many airline sites will give you the cost on a particular day and allow you to search the calendar around your chosen departure date for cheaper fares, so you may discover substantial savings if your travel dates are flexible. Florida does have quite a few airports, so flying to Tampa or Sanford may be more economical. If you do fly to another airport, you have to factor in the cost and hassle of a rental car. If you are staying at a Disney resort and you fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), Disney provides a free shuttle known as Magical Express, which, in addition to whisking you away to your resort in comfort, lets you bypass baggage claim and have your bags magically brought to your room!

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If there are many people traveling with you, it may be more cost effective to drive to Disney. We are nine hours away, which is manageable as a day trip.  We have found that if we drive several hours and get a hotel room in Jacksonville, where we can find really cheap rates, we can get up early and get a full day in the park. Same thing when we leave. We left after a full day at the park after seeing Fantasmic! and drove 2 hours to St. Augustine beach, which made the drive the next day a little more enjoyable. And we got some much needed beach time after a crazy and fun-packed week.

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Either way you slice it, you’re going to have travel-related expenses (unless you live in Orlando, lucky ducks!) but deciding what mode of transport works best for your family, while keeping an eye out for deals, will be your first decision of many in your Disney trip planning!

Stay tuned for Part 2, as we talk about the next important question, “Where will we stay?”

Do Meal Delivery Services Save You Money?

A couple of weeks ago I started getting really curious about these meal delivery services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. My Facebook feed must have felt it because all at once I had adverts for 5 different companies offering $30 off! First 3 meals free! Etc, etc. So, what does a curious-minded budget blogger do? She takes the bait and dives in head first, all for the sake of her dear readers (all 10 of you.)

I got an account with Blue Apron and signed up for 4 family meals a week (each meal serves 4) with a $30 coupon, my total was a little over $100. It seemed pricey to me until I reminded myself that I now had no need to go grocery shopping for the week, except to pick up a few breakfast and lunch items. I tend to buy higher quality meat and produce, which adds up quickly at the old Whole Foods. The other benefit was no meal planning! I was honestly getting in a dinner rut. Mexican night was happening all too frequently and it wasn’t much of a fiesta anymore.

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So when my delivery date arrived and I pulled into my driveway, I was ecstatic to see my meals waiting for me in 2 cardboard boxes. I quickly unpacked everything, looked over my recipes and put all the perishables (kept nice and chilly in an insulated liner and ice packs) away in the fridge. The meals looked delicious, and I immediately picked a Shrimp and Udon Noodle salad to make. These meals are more complicated than what I assume most people with kids are used to making. This is actually a good thing, as meal time has become something to look forward to, knowing I’ll be having a well thought-out, flavorful meal with quality ingredients, with little work on my part. You do still need to prepare and cook these from scratch. The veggies come in their natural state, so get ready to slice, dice and grate.

If you go for the family plan, you will be paying $140 for 4 nights of meals for your family or, just under $9 per serving. Unless you eat at a sit down restaurant almost every night, you probably are paying less than that to currently feed your family. If you would rather receive meals less frequently, it is so easy to change your plan or skip a few weeks. I’m currently trying a couple of different plans to see what works best for us (the 2 person plan might work since my husband rarely has dinner with us, but I like having leftovers)

When you factor in the time you are saving going food shopping every week and meal planning, and the quality of the food, which is probably better than you normally allow yourself to buy if you’re on a budget, it starts to make more sense. I am sticking with Blue Apron for the time being and am really happy with it. Cooking is fun again, and we are eating out much less frequently than we used to. If you use one of these services, let me know what you think! Cover photo courtesy of Basheer Tome via flickr

Are You Souvenir Savvy?

A fun part of going on vacation for many people is buying awesome one-of-a-kind souvenirs to remember their trip. Unfortunately, that can get pricey. Especially at Disney! We budget very little for souvenirs, usually setting aside one gift card specifically  for tchotkes. When it’s done, so are we. That being said, there are ways to get that cool Disney swag for much less than buying it in the parks. Here is a look at some of the most sought-after Disney merch and how to get it without taking out a second mortgage.

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  • Trading Pins. If you don’t already know about pin trading at Disney, let me enlighten you. You can wear your official Disney trading pins on a lanyard or keep them in a special book. Ask a cast member or another guest to trade if you see a pin that you fancy. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and really got our daughter out of her shell. The pins at Disney can run $10 and more, so before our last trip, we bought a package of random pins on eBay for about 50 cents apiece. We weren’t particular, we just wanted some pins to start with for trading. If, at the parks, you see a special pin that catches your eye or completes your collection, then it might be worth splurging. My daughter used her gift card to get an Expedition Everest pin after she braved the coaster for the first time.
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photo credit: mytakeondisney.com
  • T-shirts. There are so many t-shirts for sale around the parks, it’s mind-boggling. We’re all for representing “the mouse” on our clothing, but those t-shirt prices can get out of control. My family’s strategy has been to avoid buying shirts while on vacation by keeping a look out for deals between our trips. A great source for unusual Disney wear is the thrift store. We have found some pretty cool shirts in all sizes for a fraction of retail cost. Another source is the Disney store or website. They often run sales or clear out old styles. My daughter got an awesome Star Wars shirt featuring her favorite character last week at the Disney store for $8! Etsy is a great source for more creative looks and there’s always DIY if you’re a crafty mama.
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photo credit: Cory Doctorow via Flickr
  • Ears. If you haven’t already been to a Disney park, you might not know- it’s all about the ears. For first-timers, I do recommend getting your kids their first set of personalized Mickey Ears. The cost is relatively low and it is a keepsake they will treasure for years to come. If a hat is not your style, don’t fear, there are many types of mouse ears with which you can express your own personal style. For my girl and I, we chose headband Minnie Ears, which we bought from Amazon for about $7. If you are crafty, of course, there are how-to’s on making your own. On our next trip, we might be splurging on some personalized handcrafted ears from Etsy. What is your favorite ride, movie or character? You can probably find ears to match. Like I said, they are a splurge, but to me it’s worth a bit more cash to have something unique to wear to the parks.

Obviously there are many other souvenirs waiting for you to bring them home at the Disney parks. My little one (and her mom) is a sucker for the myriad of plush Disney characters that lay in wait in the gift shops that you MUST pass through at the end of most rides. We agree to one per trip. She picks out several and then makes her choice. It’s not easy. How do you decide between baby Stitch and a super cuddly Tigger? But I hope I’m helping her to value quality over quantity. So far, our home is not decked out with a nauseating amount of Disneyana. We have many photos, which in my mind is the most priceless of any souvenir and well worth purchasing the Photopass (we’ll talk about that in a later post.) So now hopefully you have an idea of some alternatives to forking over the big bucks at the Happiest Place on Earth. Memories are great, but they don’t have to be expensive.

The Best Ways to Save Day to Day

We talk a lot about budgets and saving here. Well, sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin when you want to put aside extra money for a trip, car or house. Luckily, a vacation is more within reach than saving for a house. Here are some really simple ways we have adjusted our daily lives to allow us to save over time.carousel

  1. Have a set goal. It is really hard to sacrifice lattes and date night for some unknown future reward (at least in my case.) Set a concrete date of when you would like to travel. Go online and research resorts, the parks, anything to get you motivated. Watch videos! Youtube is chock-full of parades, walk-throughs of all the Disney parks, and more. Sometimes we just listen to the background music of Main Street U.S.A or Tomorrowland (check it out here.) Staying motivated will make saving less of a chore and more like a game!
  2. We eat (and drink) at home. This one is tough I must admit. We live in “Foodtopia,” Asheville NC. So much food everywhere. Great coffee, artisan doughnuts, more tacos than you can shake a stick at. But wow, can it add up quickly! Making food at home is way cheaper and healthier, so we try to stick to that at least 5 days a week. And all coffee, iced tea, cold brew, is made at home. The one area we luck out in is beer. My husband works at a brewery, so he gets freebies. It’s nice.
  3. Entertainment. Do you have to see that movie in the theaters in 3D or will Redbox suffice? I only see movies that really benefit from a big screen (For example, “The Force Awakens” in 3D changed my life.) There is a $5 movie night at the theater close to us, so if we need to see something, that’s when we do it. Did you know there is a place that will lend you books for free? We love our library, and even check out digital books, magazines and movies!  We also realized that Cable TV was a luxury we could do without, and now we stick to HULU and Netflix for much less money per month.
  4. Use rewards credit cards (wisely!) We use the Disney Chase Signature Visa, which gives 2% back on groceries and gas. You can use the rewards on any Disney purchase including vacations. There are many credit cards that offer reward points, but it only works if you pay off that balance monthly. We use ours like a debit card to pay for daily expenses and then save our rewards for a special “free” treat during the trip.
  5.  Put that change to good use. Any extra change laying around or stray bills found in the wash can all go into a container. Make a fancy label for it if you’re feeling creative. You would be surprised how much you can save with that simple, painless act. We put our “jar money” directly into our vacation account. It’s fun to watch the account grow this way!

Following these tips is a good start to getting that vacation. It’s not always easy, but just keep focused on your goals (we’ll cover ways to stay motivated in a future post) and all the work will be worth it.